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SEIS Celebrates First In-Person Commencements Since 2019

By Joanie Harmon

Ceremonies for the Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 took place at UCLA on June 11.

The Class of 2022 of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies celebrated its commencement on June 11, in Wilson Plaza. In addition, celebrations for the SEIS Classes of 2020 and 2021 were held that day as well, on the UCLA campus. 

The commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022 began with a moment of silence to recognize the 1,000,000 lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing racial injustice and senseless gun violence throughout the United States. 

Wasserman Dean Christina Christie called the commencement to order and spoke to the assembled graduates and their family and friends. 

“You are the newest alumni of the number one public school of education and information studies located within the number one public university in the country,” said Dean Christie. “We have earned this distinction as a top school because of you. So, I stand before you not only to congratulate you, but also to thank you for all of your hard work, dedication, perseverance, and optimism, for engaging with us in our shared efforts to forge transformational change in our society.

“…The world is a very different place than it was when you first began your degree programs. And yet, I have hope, great hope, because of you who sit before us as our most important generation of educators and informationists. I know you are all poised to take on whatever comes next.”

Antonia Fabian represented the recently formed SEIS Education and Social Transformation undergrad major, addressing the audience. A high school dropout and non-traditional transfer student from Los Angeles Valley College who was supported by a “life-changing instructor,” she exhorted her fellow graduates to become that mentor for others. 

“… Your educational trajectory might not have been like mine, but you have undoubtedly met that one person in your life,” said Fabian. “Now the tables have turned, and now you have the chance to be that one life-changing educator for someone else.” 

Fabian encouraged students of color to also know that, “… you are more than capable of getting to anywhere you want to go. You deserve to be in every single space that you walk in, and if you don’t see yourself in those spaces, know that you are breaking barriers so that years down the road, others can come to that space. You are intelligent, you are loved, you are cared for, and you are your ancestors’ wildest dreams come true.”

Jose Gallegos, who represented the UCLA Department of Information Studies, graduated with his MLIS in Media Archival Studies. In an outwardly humourous and self-deprecating speech, he saluted the resilience, resourcefulness, and activism of his classmates.

“These last two years were collectively challenging and marked by varying levels of uncertainty,” he said. “As students in this program, we faced adjustments to new technology, new cities, new friends, student fatigue and multiple existential crises, impending deadlines, relaxed deadlines, mandates, the loosening of mandates, the reintroduction of strict mandates, confusing emails, follow-up emails to confusing emails, animals blocking our webcams, and the dreaded “mute” button that we would forget to press during class. Fortunately, these challenges afforded us the opportunity to learn and how to adapt to the chaos and absurdity of the world. 

“Now is usually the portion of the speech where I would effervescently exclaim the world is our oyster and that we have so much potential to make the world a better place,” Gallegos said. “The truth is that action – not the potential for action – is a powerful weapon. I do not come here to generalize the potential of my fellow graduating students, but having met and befriended many of them, I know that these graduates not only know how to act, but they know how to speak. I have witnessed my friends and colleagues speak up and act for social justice within the microcosm of UCLA and in the world at large, and I am proud to be walking with them on this stage today.”

MaríaElena Díez Esquer, a first-generation American-born daughter of Cuban immigrants, graduated with her Ed.D. from the UCLA Educational Leadership Program (ELP). She spoke to the audience – including her 90-year-old mother, who was the very first doctorate holder in her family, about the challenges of educational leadership and the dedication of her colleagues and herself to service.

“… We all know that transformation is really needed: sustainable transformation that calls for justice, inclusion, and agency and access to information, that drives equity and acceptance of identity and culture,” said Esquer in her address. “Acceptance, and not tolerance. We must commit to the actions needed that create change fearlessly. We must believe that we can break down the barriers we see every day, all of us. 

“We tell educators to convey to students that anything is possible, but we need to ensure that those who serve believe it’s also possible for them,” noted Esquer. “The work ahead and that has already been done, is challenging – there’s no way to sugarcoat that, which means then that we must embrace this supposed ‘impossible,’ and dare it to face our combined powers and the actions that we take and see the possibilities for those we serve. Every day, we have a chance to be better than yesterday. And every day, we have opportunities to make a difference and to serve, something that’s important to a Bruin. And every one of you, it’s important to remember that we get the chance to serve.” 

The presentation of candidates and the hooding ceremony were given by Professors Michelle Caswell, chair of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, and Megan Franke, interim chair of the UCLA Department of Education. Dean Christie presided over the conferring of degrees, and the UCLA Alma Mater, “Hail to the Hills of Westwood” was performed accapella by Anna Sophia Heidt Alowayed, MLIS graduate, and Nicholas Francis Havey, Ph.D., Education.

Photos by Paolo Cantos